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CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement said that Amazon's goal with its "Mayday" button is to revolutionize tech support. "With a single tap, an Amazon expert will appear on your Fire HDX and can co-pilot you through any feature by drawing on your screen, walking you through how to do something yourself, or doing it for you -- whatever works best," he said.
Though devoting a button to customer support might be taken as an admission of product complexity, Amazon nonetheless portrays the move as one its customers welcome by pointing to approving testimonials. The Mayday button might make the Kindle Fire HDX more appealing to a technically disinclined audience, a group more inclined to buy content than to seek it out for free.
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Amazon could certainly use more buyers of its hardware. Although the company has not released unit sales figures for its Kindle Fire line, it ranked sixth in tablet unit sales during the second quarter of 2013, according to IDC. That means its unit sales during the quarter came to fewer than 1.4 million, about 10 times fewer than the number of Apple iPads sold during the same period.
Amazon says it aims to respond to the year-round, 24/7 tech support call button in 15 seconds or less. In a nod to privacy concerns, the company said that although the user can see Amazon's tech support representative, the representative cannot see the user.
The Kindle Fire HDX comes in two screen sizes: 7 inches at 323 ppi or 8.9 inches at 339 ppi. The larger model's 2560-by-1600-pixel screen is similar to Google's Nexus 10 (2560-by-1600 pixels at 300 ppi) and exceeds Apple's iPad with Retina display (2048-by-1536 pixels at 264 ppi), although an updated iPad is expected next month. The Kindle Fire HDX includes a 2.2-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 2 GB of internal memory and an Adreno 300 GPU.
Three storage configurations -- 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB -- are available. Support for 4G LTE wireless networks is also an option. The 7-inch model is available with or without a front-facing HD camera. The 8.9-inch model comes with a front-facing HD camera and with or without a rear-facing 8MP camera.
Amazon claims the Kindle Fire HDX's battery lasts for up to 11 hours of mixed use or 17 hours of reading. It notes that the 8.9-inch model weighs 13.2 ounces, making it 34% lighter than its predecessor. The email and calendar apps have been revised, as has Amazon's Silk browser. The device has also been made more business friendly with support for hardware- and software-based encryption, Kerberos Intranet, secure Wi-Fi connections, VPN integration and wireless printing.
Prices range from $139 to $579, depending on options.
Amazon Kindle VP Dave Limp says what makes Fire OS different as a platform is its focus on making customers' recently viewed content and media libraries immediately accessible on the home screen and its integration of Amazon services such as the Mayday button, Second Screen and X-Ray for Movies, TV and Music. Nonetheless, it's not too different: Mike George, VP of Amazon's Appstore insists developers can adapt their Android apps to Fire OS "with little to no work."
Even so, comparatively few developers have undertaken the ostensibly minor chore of making their Android apps available on the Amazon Appstore: Google Play has about 600,000 apps compared to over 100,000 in the Amazon Appstore. Yet, in revenue, Amazon's Appstore is far closer to Google Play than can be measured in app counts. Metrics firm Distimo said in April that the top 200 paid apps in Google Play during the month of March earned $5.1 million, compared to $3 million for the top 200 paid apps in the Amazon Appstore.
Amazon is now accepting orders for its new devices. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX is scheduled to ship Nov. 14. The 8.9-inch model will ship Dec. 10.
9/26: Corrected Appstore figures